John Bickel On The Mercury Lane Project.

mercuryBrea’s “Citizen of the Year”, John Bickel was born and raised in Brea, graduated from Brea HS and for 16 years has been a member the Brea Historical Society… President for the last 6 years.

Few people in town devote as much time and energy into local activities or understand local issues better than John. That’s why I’ve ask him to share his correspondence regarding the Mercury Lane Project with the Planning Commission here as a guest blogger.

John’s Message on the Mercury Lane Project.

January 12, 2020

To: Brea Planning Commission & City Staff

Subject: Mercury Apartments Project

I have lived in Brea for my entire life, mostly in the Arovista residential tract where I live today. I have seen this city grow to where it is today. The housing elements are varied and I believe fairly well balanced between attached and detached residences.

My first few years of adulthood placed me in rental units, apartments and houses. In 1977, we were able to purchase a home a stay in Brea. This was an ideal situation for me, since I worked for Unocal in Brea. My commute was 15 minutes.

For many, many years I enjoyed riding a bicycle to and from work. I felt very fortunate to live in the same city where I worked. I had many coworkers who were making long, daily commutes, or renting with others.

The 114 Mercury Apartments will be a good addition to the rental community in Brea. This private project will target the young professional market, of which Brea has many, from firefighters and police officers, engineers, medical and office workers.

Mercury Apartments are not low-income units, they are not subsidized by government and our taxes. They are built near several businesses that have employees who can rent near work and will be very happy to eliminate their daily commute.

We have become a society of valuing time.

Commuting 2 hours a day is not a good use of time.

We’re all concerned with the number of vehicles driving to and through our city at peak times, people heading to work or home. We’ve very little control of traffic with projects in neighboring cities. We have to rely on their project E.I.R. to identify impacts to Breans.

We do have control of our projects and can identify the impacts. This project will encourage people to live here and use alternate means of getting to work. The location is in walking distance to shopping, entertainment and dining, and recreation.

Some people have expressed concerns about insufficient on-site parking. If you look around the city at other apartment complexes, they are all under parked and overflow into the streets and even an adjacent park. I believe with the proper mitigations and a parking management plan, the Mercury project can work to the benefit of all.

Over the holidays I spoke with several of my neighbors. Most knew nothing about this project. Their first reaction was no more low-income rentals. But when I explained more of the project to them, their feelings changed and they became supportive of the project.

I encourage the city staff and this Commission to continue to work with the developer and work towards agreements that make this project, in all respects, a benefit to Brea.

Sincerely.

John Bickel

What a difference when you know what you’re talking about.

I value John’s opinions, though we have differed at times. I know he has put in the work to know what he’s talking about and his deep love and concern for his hometown is without question.

If just fraction of the folks I see spouting off on Facebook and Nextdoor would take the time and interest John does before attacking their keyboards… and their neighbors… Brea would be a lot different today.

We wouldn’t be facing many of the crisis level issues we are… and I suspect we would have a whole different set of portraits hanging in the Council Chambers.

mercury

Birch Hills Golf Course, A Toxic Blunder.

Title to the Birch Hills Golf course, owned by Union Oil/Chevron since it was built in 1972, was to be transferred to the City of Brea in exchange for being released from the obligation of paying a Parks in Lieu Fee. Who knew what a total nightmare this seemingly simple matter would become?

The pissing contest between Chevron and the City of Brea has consumed over three years in closed sessions, allowed the once popular course to be dramatically reduced in size and to fall into a horrible state of disrepair and finally, last Tuesday, it showed up on Council’s agenda as Consent Item 21.

Consent Item! Bull Sugar!

Consent Calendars are reserved for routine, non-controversial, housekeeping items, or matters the Council has achieved consensus on after previous discussion. Generally, topics that have not been previously discussed by Council should not be put on the consent agenda.

Since the early ‘90’s Staff and Council have been burying critical items on the Consent Calendar to avoid conflicting public opinion. It’s a practice I’ve been fighting for years.

The moment agendas are posted late Friday afternoon, I immediately check the Consent Calendar to see what is getting swept under the rug at the next meeting. I find dubious items virtually every time, the Birch Hills matter is a prime example.

Why Pull The Item For Discussion? 

Three years in the making and this multi-million dollar city asset was being acquired like a thief in the night, with no provision for discussion. Again, bull sugar.

Well over a hundred pages of complicated legal documents, with 14 attachments, were handed off to Council Friday evening and they… we all… had 97 hours to digest and research or corroborate it all.

Thankfully there were several folks willing to attempt the task.

What they found was a grossly incomplete set of documents that saddled Brea, forever, with a toxic, barely profitable piece of property with virtually no means of turning it around without spending a fortune.

How toxic? How costly to mitigate? What options for repurposing some or all of the land to a more safe and profitable use? Nothing in the documents offered even a hint at answers.

Birch Hills Toxicity Is Serious Issue.

Chevron’s field assistant to the project manager on the La Floresta and the senior boots on the ground as the biohazards on the golf course and Rails-to-Trails segment were mitigated, John Bickel, pleaded with Council at their study session to pull the item from the Consent Calendar and table it until they had a better idea of what they were really accepting.

John provided a detailed account of burying countless yards of contaminated soil under the parking lot and the additional mitigation required to bring the property up to residential standards.

John concluded his remarks with the admonition that we just don’t know enough… there are still too many unknowns. There’s a lot more explaining to do before we saddle ourselves with this monster.

Addendum – John Bickel: I think it’s important to add some clarity on exactly what is buried there, why there is more remediation to do.We (Chevron) cleaned up to meet golf course spec not residential. There really is no danger in playing golf, the lake is not contaminated. The soil beneath MAY be, no one knows for sure, it has liner underneath it is why it wasn’t sampled. The unknowns and talk of toxics could damage the income of the course.

Erin Brockovich ring a bell?

Let me add that converting this land to residential use has been a part of the General Plan since 2003. It’s on the city website. The map on page 40 shows this property as low density residential.

The city planners knew it. Unocal/Chevron knew it. Yet the documents to effect the transfer of title provide little or no clear answers how the city might proceed in that direction in the future.

Another Voice Of Reason.

During Matters From The Audience, Dwight Manley chastised Council for putting such an important matter on Consent Calendar and to table the item until the many blanks could be filled in. Clearly Council could not proceed with any certainty based upon the information available.

Here are Dwight’s comments to Council. Please listen carefully. Would you have proceeded blindly to conclude this transaction knowing how little you really knew?

Vargas Exits, Council Dives In.

Forced by legal counsel to recuse himself, Council member Vargas left the meeting. Having voiced his serious concerns since early in the weekend about the Birch Hills issues, Mr. Vargas appeared to be the only real voice of reason.

Many people, believing that Council had clearly heard the public’s position on the matter, left the meeting as well. Thinking it was tabled… they were in for the shock of their lives.

A Comedy Of Errors.

I was watching from home and hung in there. The thirty minutes of bungling and incompetence that followed was gut-wrenching.

In response to half-baked questions from an obviously uninformed Council, staff pulled off an exhibition of world class sugarcoating, deflection, outright misinformation including the “$80 a cubic yard” lie.

If you have the stomach for it, you can watch the streaming video on the city website.

I texted Dwight, warning him that it appeared Council was being drug down a path towards approving the transfer of the Birch Hills Golf Course and direct the Mayor to execute all documents necessary to close escrow.

That’s exactly what they did. They saddled us with a toxic horror and no means to dealing with it lest we spend millions upon millions of dollars ($300 million?) and beg, with fingers crossed, that Chevron and the EPA would approve our request to clean up and repurpose the property.

Unbelievable! Inconceivable!

Brea resident, Thomas Kwan, turned off his TV and emailed Council after listening to Dwight’s detailed and heartfelt plea. A copy of it reached me on Friday. Here I’ve paraphrased a few excerpts.

The last document of the set of exhibits setting forth the request for approval of the Birch Hills Golf Course Ownership Transfer Documents is the Covenants, Conditions, and Environmental Restrictions…which contains the Soil Mediation Plans for the different parts of the property.

There remains on the southern portion of the property toxic chemicals including among others, PCB’s polychlorinated biphenyls, dioxins/furans, relatively stable compounds toxic chemicals that will be there for a long time.

Who in their right mind would want to accept the Draconian responsibilities and liabilities associated with that property and the associated acquisition agreement?

Keep in mind not all of the soil has been tested. There may be areas of contamination that have not been found, have been buried without record or carried by the elements elsewhere to an untested area.

As far as I am concerned the owner (Chevron) should keep Birch Hills, build a sarcophagus over the site and fence it with skull and crossbones signs around the property.

If Brea wants to take over compliance with the EPA and OCHCA restrictions and share the responsibilities and liabilities, then Chevron should fund a multimillion dollar trust for such.

So What’s The Damned Rush?

There are no critical deadlines, threatening penalties or life and death issues here. No real urgency at all. Hell, we’ve screwed around with this for three to four years. Can’t we take a few more weeks… months… to make sure we do this right?

There are legally acceptable ways to delay the final execution of escrow while we connect all the dots. Why wouldn’t Council use every means at their disposal to do this right?